No rants here. Rant be in the end of this chapter.

Enjoy!

BECAUSE YOU NEVER KNEW 17

Gaara felt it like a soft bell ringing in his ears. He was taking care of his transfer papers with Tsunade and Jiraiya. It felt too long for the redhead, but he could see the signs of Naruto's recovery that was day by day getting better and better. While Tsunade was signing his release papers, Gaara blinked as he felt it. In response, he turned to look out that window towards the general direction of Konoha's hospital.

"Gaara?" Jiraiya asked, raising an eyebrow.

Gaara stood up. "Please excuse me for now, Hokage-sama, Jiraiya-san."

None of the remaining sannin asked why nor did they stop him as Gaara disappeared in a swirl of sand, black coat fluttering behind him. Gaara appeared in front of the hospital's entrance, just as Sasuke was coming out, hands in his pockets. The Uchiha heir looked better and seemed to move more with ease than before. Gaara remembered Haku mentioning that he had two more sessions of therapy with Sasuke. There was a slight limp in Sasuke's walk, otherwise, he looked pretty much like the stuck up rookie Gaara knew years ago.

Sasuke stopped mid walk to look at Gaara, eyes darkening. "Naruto?"

"Yes." Gaara answered. "You?"

"Same." Sasuke gave a small shrug. "He's still asleep."

Gaara couldn't help but smirk a bit. Sasuke just missed Naruto's waking by a few minutes. Shame. "He'll be up soon." Gaara walked passed Sasuke. "And don't ditch your rehab."

"Ass." Sasuke growled in reply, but smirked as he continued out the hospital gates and head back to his manor.

Gaara spared the entrance desk a glance, the nurses already accustomed to his usual and daily visits as they returned his glance with a bow and a chorus of, 'good afternoon, Gaara-san' along with smiles. Gaara took his time walking down the silent corridors, occasionally passing by a patient walking in those pale colored yukatas. Posters of health hazards decorated the wall, along with pictures of drug abuse and misuse of chakra. To Gaara, it was just a blur of pictures lacking color as he climbed the stairwell and head to the ward where Naruto lay asleep in.

The feeling got more intense as he neared Naruto's door.

Gaara couldn't stop the smile from coming to his lips as he took one last turn and counted four doors before stopping in front of his destination. Pale hands reached for the door knob, pushing it open to find that the curtains were drawn close and that Ino and Sakura had visited earlier for there was a pot of fresh flowers on the side table of Naruto's bed. Gaara also noted how there were new get well soon cards from the genin classes that now look up to Naruto, thanks to Iruka's teaching and tales. Shaking his head, he closed the door behind him and headed straight for the window. He pulled the curtains apart, letting it warm rays of winter sunshine to lighten up the dark room. Gaara stared out at the slightly misty bright setting outside the hospital before turning to look at Naruto. Gaara picked up one of the vase that was on Naruto's side table and placed the daisy filled ones by the window before pulling up a chair and sitting beside the slumbering blonde.

All he had to do now was wait.

XXX

White.

Too white.

Eyes opened slowly as his vision cleared. Morning rays were pouring through the window and reflecting on the crystal vase with a bouquet of daisies placed neatly on them. He felt grimy and sticky. He blinked his eyes wider, feeling it slightly water as he focused looking to one spot.

"Welcome back, Naruto."

Naruto turned his head stiffly to find Gaara sitting beside him, no longer wearing his Konoha Jounin garb but a long black coat with a white leather gourd holster strapped around his torso. His hair was now longer and still its vibrant red. There was a smirk on the sand-nin's face, a very soft and happy one.

"You look different." Naruto whispered, clearing his throat from its dryness. Gaara helped Naruto sit up and gave him some water. Naruto settled back on the bed once his throat felt less raw.

"A lot of things happened. But this, by far, is one of the best." Gaara said, reaching out to pat Naruto's rather thin hand.

"How long have I been here?" Naruto asked, staring at the ceiling.

"Almost three months." Gaara replied.

"The others?" Naruto looked worried.

"Sasuke is doing rehab and is in his last few sessions with Haku." Naruto grinned at that. "Neji resigned as ANBU, he's now a jounin. Sakura and Hinata left their teaching posts to work as medics. Lee got his old team back and are now doing missions. Shino left ANBU. The teachers are pretty much still the same. Kiba works with Shino mostly." Gaara then provided Naruto with what he wanted to hear. "Kakashi is fine. He's off today since he just got back from an A-rank mission last night."

"That's good." Naruto closed his eyes, tired; he was still recovering after all. His healing abilities have finally kicked in. A few more days of rest and he'd be fine like a reborn young man.

"Temari left her post as Kazekage. I'm taking her place."

Naruto opened his eyes and look at Gaara, before taking the sand nin's hand in his and giving it an affectionate squeeze. Naruto smiled, closed his eyes and continued to hold Gaara's hand. "And you'll be great."

Gaara brushed Naruto's greasy hair back and gave the hand holding his an affectionate squeeze back. "I'll call the Hokage."

XXX

Tsunade stared at Naruto, blinked back tears and proceeded to give him a few more healing rounds. "Naruto."

"Baa-chan." Naruto smiled up from his bed.

"You look horrible." Tsunade shook her hair.

"And you look older." Naruto smiled. "And more beautiful."

"Flattering." Tsunade kissed his forehead. "Gaara tells me that you can stand?"

"Yes. I would like to go home." Naruto said. "Maybe lie in the bathtub as well."

Tsunade helped him to his feet and wrapped her arms around the young man. Jiraiya entered the room then and grinned. "Not bad, Naruto. Not bad at all."

"Jiraiya." Naruto nodded in respect. Jiraiya walked up to him mussed up his hair.

"I'm proud of you. We all are." Jiraiya said. "And I know he is too."

Naruto turned to look at the window towards the mountain carvings, eyes lingering on the fourth's face. Naruto still didn't understand what his father saw in the village worth dying for, but decided, that maybe in time, he'd find it somehow.

"I'm glad." Naruto nodded.

"I'm going to take you home. Gaara is getting the place ready with Haku." Jiraiya said.

"You may resume your duties whenever you wish to." Tsunade said, touching her cheek to Naruto's. "Konoha along with other villages are in your debt."

XXX

Naruto left as soon as possible with Jiraiya. He didn't attract much attention due to the cloak Jiraiya threw over his shoulders. The hood did wonders to hide his long and shaggy blonde hair. It didn't take more than ten minutes to reach the apartment that Naruto lived in forever. He was quite surprised to find that the building now sported a new paint job and that the lopsided pipe lines on the edges of the roof were new and much more stable looking. The landlord even repaired the entrance's gates and steps. What Naruto found more amusing was that the stairwell was newly cemented and was no longer uneven with chipped concrete and fading paint.

"Fixed the place up after the fight." Jiraiya mumbled when Naruto had paused by the stairwell to just look at the steps.

"About time. He hasn't repaired the stairs in years." Naruto said, smiling a bit.

"Smiling is easier now, eh?" Jiraiya said, pausing to look at Naruto two steps higher up in the stairs. "Feel better?"

"Yes." Naruto nodded. "I can breathe."

Jiraiya let out a laugh and ruffled the blonde thatch after pushing the hood off. "That's good. That's really, really good."

"Yeah." Naruto said, smiling a bit broader. "It feels good."

Jiraiya nodded and chuckled continuing up the stairs with Naruto behind him. Naruto couldn't stop the bubbling laughter in his chest when Haku pulled him for a long and warm embrace while Gaara simply watched, coat and leather gourd holster gone.

"Welcome home!" Haku said, smiling. "I couldn't come earlier. I had classes to teach! Naruto, you look great!"

Jiraiya couldn't help but grin. "I'll leave you three together. I have some research to do."

Naruto waved and grinned back. "You're not leaving are you?"

"Me?" Jiraiya waved a hand. "Nah." The elder man nodded his head and waved. "Take care of him." Without another word, Jiraiya walked down the hall and out of the apartment complex.

"Come in! You just got out of the hospital and it's winter! Yukata only?" Haku started lecturing Naruto in his mother hen tone as he disposed off the cloak Naruto was wearing. The apartment was warmer and Naruto found that either Haku or Gaara got the heater working. It wasn't very cold in his opinion though. Naruto, truth be told, knows how cold-cold it can get when the house was empty. In fact, to the blonde, it felt like spring; all around warm.

"I'm not cold Haku. In fact, it's rather warm." Naruto announced.

"Your bath is ready." Gaara said, jerking a thumb at the bathroom. "I got the landlord to fix the heater. Haku painted the apartment."

Ah. That's why. "No wonder the walls are brighter. New paint job." Naruto said, smiling at Haku.

"Got new curtains too." Gaara commented, pointing at the light blue drapes mounted on the window. Clean windows, Naruto noted. Nothing much could be said because Naruto also noted that the holes that were present on his couch were gone. There were new throw pillows on the couch that looked way cleaner than the battered up ones before. Also, his apartment now had a floor rug! Everything just looked neat and although it was pretty much the same as it had been years ago, it still looked different; felt different in a good way. Perhaps it was the pot plants in the corner or the newly boarded floor or maybe just the presence of two people he trusted so much.

"It's good to be home." Naruto whispered.

"Good to have you back." Haku stressed, guiding him to the bathroom. "Go take your bath. I received an urgent message in the middle of class by Hokage-sama herself to have the house ready for your arrival. Take your time. But don't stay too long or you'll catch cold. You're still recovering." Haku thrust a cleaner and warmer yukata in to Naruto's arms along with a towel. "Gaara and I will be getting dinner ready."

"Yes. Yes." Naruto nodded and stepped in to the bathroom, closing the door behind him as Haku walked down the hall. Naruto could still hear Haku's soft spoken voice while he asked Gaara what he should prepare for dinner.

XXX

Naruto, you still don't know what a woman feels! Mou!

Oi, dobe! You afraid?

Don't fall for such obvious traps, idiot.

Hokage? That's aiming too high, don't you think?

You can open your eyes now Naruto. You graduate! Congratulations!

Oho! A perfect name for a perfect technique! Ten out of ten!

If you don't hurry, you won't catch up to him.

Konoha's lotus blooms twice, Naruto-kun!

A ninja must eat vegetables! Here, I brought these for you!

Grow up to be a good man!

Naruto blinked his eyes open, staring at the gray tiles of his bathroom. He's remembering faces from the old days before he left. Days that shaped his life and outlook, his hate and goals – faces that made him fight harder and get stronger. Faces that he will forever hold dear and treasure and never forget. Steam wafted up the ceiling, forming moist drops on the walls.

Naruto reached forward and pulled the stopper of the tub free, the slightly foamy and aloe scented water draining in to the hole. The shower knobs were cranked open, releasing a warm spray as Naruto got on his feet and started lathering his hair clean with the shampoo that Haku or Gaara must have bought. It was still full. Three months of being confined to a bed with no shower was enough to make Naruto's skin crawl. Of course, he's been in the wilderness with Jiraiya before during his training, but still. He was currently in a village with facilities available for things like showers or baths. Naturally, Naruto takes his time in feeling clean again, glad that Haku or Gaara actually remembered to keep a new bar of soap because he doubted a half used one would last long. Naruto also had to take care of his growing facial hair. Once he was done with his shower, he was once again happy to note that either of his Hunter teammates must have left that new razor and shaving cream. He took his time in taking care of his facial hair. He'd ask Sakura or maybe Lee to trim his hair. Although most people would immediately reprimand him if he says that Lee was going to trim his hair, Naruto would have to disagree. If there's anyone in the village with talent when handling hair and scissors, then it's Lee. No one – no one – can perfect that ultra bowl hair cut like Lee can. Lee was good with layering hair and getting rid of split ends. It was probably the only reason Neji asks him to trim his hair. Naruto knows because Lee told him.

A good forty minutes later, Naruto emerged from the bathroom in a clean yukata with a towel around his neck, hair dried, combed and face clean. His whisker marks were far more visible than before he shaved. It felt good to be able to feel clean again. Naruto noted to himself now that he didn't really like hospitals. It felt as if his body were a dust magnet. He dressed himself in normal civilian clothes before joining his two companions outside.

"Well, you certainly look more alive!" Haku said, grinning. "Sit! Sit! You need your energy back!"

Gaara handed Naruto a bowl of soup as he too sat down. It was just like before when the three of them got together. It felt like a real home and family. The meal passed in comfortable silence. Naruto couldn't eat much due to his stomach being empty for quite sometime. He mourned the fact that he couldn't even eat half of Haku's curry or finish his own bowl of rice.

"What are you going to do now, Haku?" Naruto asked, looking up. "Gaara is going to be –"

"I know." Haku nodded. The fact sunk in that Gaara would be leaving. They wouldn't be the three-man hunter team that most of the other units seem to fear somehow. Gaara wasn't looking up from his plate because he already knew what Haku has to say. "Naruto, I am happy here in Konoha. I will gladly keep you company until maybe the day comes when the both of us will have to go our separate ways." Haku smiled, tilting his head a bit to one side. "I'm still willing to be your Hunter partner."

Naruto smiled a bit. "If you wish to stay with me, then I am eternally grateful."

Gaara smirked and held his bowl towards Haku. "Good. Haku, give me more rice."

Laughter erupted from the table.

It was just like old times.

XXX

Naruto was standing by the window, looking out at Konoha's night life. Haku was in the bathroom taking a shower while Gaara lay sprawled on the couch, a book on his lap. Naruto wasn't really looking at anything in particular. He was more interested in the circular glows of the lights and lanterns changing colors all around the village. He gazed towards the general direction of the stone carvings on the mountain, eyes lingering on the fourth. Fingers automatically moved to come around his neck where the necklace Tsunade gave and his father's ring usually hang only to find nothing.

That's right. I gave it to him.

Naruto turned and headed towards the door. "I'm going out for a while."

Gaara looked up at him from his book. "You sure?"

Naruto nodded, grinning a bit. "I'll probably be long."

Gaara smirked before standing to pull a coat out of the hall closet. "Understandable. Here." Gaara draped the coat over Naruto's shoulders. "I'll tell Haku."

"I have something I want back." Naruto said, strapping his sandals on.

"I know." Gaara nodded. "Go."

Naruto nodded and left through the front door quietly. The night air was cold against his skin. He pulled the coat tighter around himself before walking off towards the block that lead to Kakashi's house. What should have been a five minute walk stretched to fifteen minutes due to his slow pace. Gradually, his body got used to the cool air as he reached Kakashi's apartment complex. Looking up at the window that he knew belonged to Kakashi, he wasn't surprised to find it dark. Gaara did mention he just returned from an A-rank mission. Quietly, he climbed the stair well and found himself staring at Kakashi's door.

It took three knocks before Kakashi answered the door.

There was stunned silence for a few long minutes.

"You know, it's kinda' cold out here." Naruto said quietly.

Kakashi blinked from his stupor and held the door open to pull Naruto inside. "Why – Why are you walking around out in the cold? You should be resting." Kakashi reprimanded as he shut the door. "I would have come to visit you anyway."

Naruto looked about the small room and the bed. He remembered that passionate night months ago as if it were only yesterday. He turned to look at Kakashi with a neutral expression, eyes staring at the necklace around Kakashi's neck. "You have something of mine."

Kakashi stood there in his loose pants as his hands came to the pendant around his neck. "Yes." He replied, almost quiet as he pulled the necklace off. "Let me." He said, and came a step closer to hang it around Naruto's neck. Naruto's hand came to rest around the ring and pendant, fingers feeling the comfortable contours of the objects that he held very dear to himself. Kakashi stood back to look at Naruto closely. "How do you feel?"

"Better, thank you." Naruto released his hold on the necklace. "I heard from Gaara that you just got back from a mission."

Kakashi rubbed the back of his sheepishly. "Ah yes. Hokage-sama has been working all of us Jounins hard you know?"

Naruto grinned. "She does that, doesn't she?"

Kakashi's look softened. "Yes."

Naruto looked off to one side. "I am able to breathe more freely now." Kakashi understood the meaning. No longer are there Akatsukis on the loose chasing after Naruto and what he carried within him. "I think now, I can move more freely."

Kakashi gave him an unsure expression. "Am I – "

Naruto merely smiled and patted Kakashi's shoulder. "You know where to find me. I'm not going anywhere this time. I've got duty to Konoha."

Kakashi nodded, dropping his gaze. "Gaara and Haku?"

"Gaara is taking up his post as Kazekage. Haku is staying with me. Everything is fine."

Kakashi nodded. Sometimes, he wished that at times like these, that he had his mask on. "And what about me?"

Naruto smiled this time. "What about you Kakashi?" Kakashi looked at him then, and was taken a back by the smile that was directed at him. "Didn't I already tell you that I'm not going anywhere?"

Kakashi understood. "Yes."

"There you go then." Naruto said and gave Kakashi's shoulders a squeeze. "I'll be going home. They'll get worried. Take care of yourself."

"Naruto." Kakashi gripped his hands. "Back then, when you left your necklace with me –"

Naruto quickly pressed his finger to Kakashi's lips. "Don't." He shook his head. "I know. You know. Keep it that way."

Kakashi smiled. "All right."

Naruto nodded. "Get some sleep. You look so exhausted." He gave Kakashi's shoulder an affectionate rub before heading for the door to leave.

"Hey Naruto."

Naruto turned to look over his head. "Yeah?"

"Tomorrow afternoon, if you're feeling better, let's go get some ramen." Kakashi said, and this time, he was smiling widely.

Naruto's smile stretched widely that for once, one can see that he really meant it. "I'd love that."

XXX

Naruto stared at his mail box and at the white envelope that lay within. He reached in and pulled it out to find that it was a rather stiff looking envelope; the type that was given out when there's a formal occasion of some sorts. It was addressed to the people living in his apartment. Curious, he opened the envelope and grinned.

Walking in to the kitchen, he waved it to Gaara who was sipping his warm milk and Haku who was setting down two plates of sandwiches on the table. "Look! We're guests of honor!"

"Where?" Haku asked, coming around to stand behind Naruto to peek over his shoulder. "Oh Sakura-san and Shino-san's wedding!"

Gaara set his cup down to lean against the chair. "Shino mentioned that they wanted you to be present. That's why wedding plans were supposedly put on hold."

Haku smiled at Naruto. "Sakura-san still sees you as her close teammate and friend."

Naruto set the invitation down. There was a reason why he kept his distance from everyone in the beginning. Gaara and Haku knew that very well. It went without speaking really. "So what does one normally wear on weddings?"

XXX

It was a grand event. Most of the people Naruto knew were present in the wedding ceremony. It didn't surprise Naruto to find that Sasuke was also a guest of honor along with the others like Kakashi, Kurenai, Jiraiya and Tsunade. Some were new faces that Naruto didn't really recognize yet, but judging from the way they interacted with the couple, he guessed that they were close. Sasuke was sitting next to him rather stiffly in his formal kimono with the Uchiha crest on the back. They hadn't spoken with each other since Naruto's hospital discharge due to the fact that Sasuke was away most of the time on missions ever since his last two sessions with Haku were completed. It wasn't that Naruto minded, but he sincerely hoped that Sasuke wasn't overworking himself.

"Stop squirming." Naruto whispered. "They're exchanging vows!"

"I know already. Shut up." Sasuke whispered back. "You've been squirming too, you know?"

Naruto smirked. It was like old times again. "Yeah well, these clothes are heavy."

"Tell me about it." Sasuke mumbled, sighing. "Ne, Naruto."

"Hmm?"

"Are you –"

"No."

"You don't even know what I was going to ask!" Sasuke hissed, frowning. It was quite surprising to find that he hadn't bashed Naruto upside the head yet.

"I know." Naruto said, smiling a bit. "I'm not mad at you. I don't hate you."

"But –"

"I said shush! Vows!" Naruto said, kicking the side of Sasuke's ankle.

"Dobe! I'm just –"

"Don't." Naruto said softly. "Forget it. What happened, happened. It wasn't your fault."

"I'm sorry." Sasuke sounded so guilt ridden.

"I am too." Naruto smiled a bit, and reached out to pat Sasuke's hand. "It's a new life now. This time, walk a path with no regrets whatsoever."

Sasuke smiled a bit as the couple in front of them finished exchanging their vows that sealed their marriage. At the announcement, everyone clapped and cheered the newly weds. "Yeah. This time, there will be no regrets."

Naruto was clapping like the rest, grinning. He turned to look at Sasuke and smiled. "I'm glad to hear that, Sasuke."

They both looked at each other before bursting out in peels of laughter. Sasuke looped an arm around Naruto's neck as the both of them grinned at Sakura who waved at them and tossed the flower bouquet she had in Sasuke's direction.

This time, Naruto laughed even harder at the flushed expression Sasuke was radiating.

It was so good to be able to feel so free.

XXX

"I'll see you two later! Kiba challenged me to a round of Go." Haku said, waving as he disappeared down the crowd of celebrating people to join Kiba.

Naruto and Gaara stared after him. "He does know that Kiba is a sucker at Go right?" Naruto asked.

"Who knows." Gaara shrugged, just as Lee came to join them, Kakashi trailing behind him.

"Naruto! Gaara!" Lee greeted. "So good to see the both of you. Isn't it a wonderful celebration? Gai-sensei said that such gatherings enhances the spring of –"

"Lee, come. Let's go for a drink." Gaara said.

Lee grinned and gave a thumbs up sign at Naruto. "I will see you later Naruto. And do tell me if you need another haircut."

"Of course!" Naruto said, waving. Once both his friends had gone, Kakashi stood behind him and threaded his bare fingers through the soft blonde locks.

"He cuts hair?" Kakashi asked, sounding amused at the same time horrified.

"He handles the scissors like it's his fingers. One of the best." Naruto assured Kakashi. His hair was now shorter and spikier, much like before. All the excess growth were sheared off by Lee upon his request.

"Walk with me." Kakashi said, gesturing towards the woodland clearing that was at the far end of the celebration circle.

XXX

The evening air ruffled their formal attire as they walked deeper in to the woods, getting farther and farther from all the music and merry celebration. Kakashi stopped in the small clearing where three worn target dummies were erected from the ground. Naruto was staring at Kakashi's gray kimono and at his sandals. Naruto knew that underneath each sleeve, Kakashi hid weapons. Though it amused Naruto to no end how Kakashi kept shifting and tugging at the waist bands and ties that held the kimono together.

"Not used to them huh?" Naruto smirked.

"This is probably one of the reasons why I chose to remain a bachelor." Kakashi grumbled through the mask as he adjusted the ties one last time and faced Naruto. "And that blue hakama suits you very well." Naruto looked down and smoothed the nonexistent wrinkles on his chest, chuckling at Kakashi's words.

Silence passed between the two of them until Kakashi came forward and threaded his fingers through Naruto's hair once again. Kakashi always did that when they were alone. Naruto would lie on his lap while Kakashi read his book while those long pale fingers stroked through the blonde thatch.

"This is why you called me away?" Naruto asked, looking up at the fingers stroking his scalp. "To play with my head?"

"I have something I wish to share with you." Kakashi said and lead Naruto to the far end of the clearing and pointed at mountain carvings. "That evening when Kyuubi attacked the village, I was in the front lines. Fighting." Naruto blinked at the seriousness of Kakashi's tone and decided not to interrupt till Kakashi was done. "Sensei didn't appear for a long time, for reasons we – the ones fighting in the front lines and dying – did not know. When things got desperate and the cover we've been maintaining crumbled , I abandoned my post. I went to look for Hokage-sensei, your father. I couldn't find him anywhere and for a moment, I though he betrayed the village." Naruto stared at Kakashi and was about to retort at that phrase when Kakashi wrapped both his arms around Naruto and held him close. "I found Sandaime and desperate, I demanded and asked. Accused sensei of being a possible traitor. Sandaime told me that sensei left hours ago, with the only technique that can stop the rampaging demon."

Naruto was staring wide eyed at the sleeve of Kakashi's kimono. "T-Then?"

"Just minutes later, I saw the technique that took the life of my teacher and rival and Sandaime was gone from my side. I was young then, pushed around due to my age despite being second in command of my unit. I only found out that sensei, Yondaime-Hokage, died in the middle of battle and that there were no traces of the fox. I found out later that he sacrificed himself. I didn't understand though."

Naruto closed his eyes. "I don't either."

"But now I do." Kakashi said. Naruto did a slight double take and stepped back to look at Kakashi's face. "Sandaime told me, after sensei was buried that sensei carried the burden of being the village's leader first above everything else. It kept coming back to me, that single phrase, and then when I saw you after you came back and found out about your lineage, I understood. Sensei, your father, wanted to give the village a chance in life; give you a chance in life. He wanted you to live and carry out the duties that he couldn't finish. As a hero. A leader." Kakashi pulled his mask down. "And above all, as a real person. Not just a tool." Naruto was stunned to silence. "I can only imagine how one's mind work as both a parent and as a leader, but what you did for the village Naruto, was what your father would have done. When the village was stripped off of all hope, you gave it courage. And that is probably one of the greatest gifts you've given Konoha." Kakashi pressed his forehead to Naruto's. "Your father once gave that to Konoha. That courage. Years ago before he died. It waned with time but you brought it back. Believe me because I can see the people. You can see them too. You just have to –"

Naruto pressed his finger to Kakashi's lips, closing his moist eyes. "I know. I was afraid. A coward. But I can see. I can feel. And to know that everyone now has a chance for a better life, then I'm happy. I cannot ask for more."

Kakashi pulled Naruto's hand down from his lips and pulled the younger man close. "I'm here. For you and for as long as you'll need me. I nearly lost one of my most precious people and I'm not going to do that again." Naruto looked up to stare at Kakashi's mismatched eyes and saw the love neither of them could put to words. The simple term 'I love you' was probably not enough to express how they felt for each other. Naruto could only smile up at the elder man and stand close by his side as the celebration music rang on through out the entire village.

I understand now, Father. Naruto clutched the ring in his palm while his other remained wrapped around Kakashi's waist. You saw life

FIN

When I say LIFE, I meant LIFE as HUMANS not as simple shinobi tools.

This fic has finally been concluded. I kinda ruined it somewhere in the middle but I feel that this is probably as far as my fried brain can go. I know it's shorter than normal and I know I must have said more than one lemon somewhere but I wondered, after writing this chapter, just where can I chuck the lemon in. If I did, then I think I would have made the story cheap.

As for both the very simple and quiet exchange of words between Naruto and Kakashi, well shinobis aren't really people of words. And Kakashi's speech is probably an equal equivalent to that of a sappy love confession shinobi style (ie – my personal favorite) angst loaded!

So yeah. NO, there will be no Haku/Sasuke. No, there is no Naru/Gaa or vice versa. And NO, Gaa/Haku just won't work out. These three hunters share deep friendship and brotherhood. No sex implied.

Sasuke needs a female to breed his clan. I've decided that. And no, no mpregs. I'd love to read about them but I can never pull them off.

And uh, yeah that concludes my rant.

Now, for the final farewells (ahem)

I thank you all for reading this far and for bugging me to write it (believe me, if I didn't get all those emails, my plot bunny from hell Ichigo (aka) my conscience wouldn't have left me alone!). And so I've finally found a proper way to end this story, despite feeling that I've ruined it. I want to thank all my reviewers for reviewing and reading my hunkajunk that comes from my brain – mwacks! Love you love you! I probably can't thank you enough and you've probably lost interest in this fic already, but thank you so much! Really, you guys makes the shi-chan the HAPPY!

Last but no least, boy do I feel GREAT to have this off my back. I can't list all my inspirations that pushed me to write this final chapter simply because I can't remember what they were in the first place. But I'd just like to say that life really is important and sometimes we really do have to sacrifice what we have to give chance to others. I suppose morals plays a role in this fic, and I'm sure everyone out there must have faced the decisions of giving or keeping one way or the other.

I wish you all a good day and best of luck in your future or whatever it is your doing!

Now, who's up for cupcakes? (holds out a big tray and GRINS)